Tuesday, 2 September 2014

A(nother) Grand Day Out at Leighton Moss RSPB Reserve

The Safari has something different for you today, something we've never done before - a Guest Blog
We are privileged to have been accepted as a mentor for the (relatively) new natural history (in all its guises) network/organisation for young naturalists A Focus on Nature. Recently we have been teamed up with another youngster, much younger than our existing mentoree TP. 
She doesn't have her own blog just yet so we have offered her a post on here. Last week, a few days earlier than our safari, she visited Leighton Moss RSPB reserve with her family because her sister had won the day as a prize in a photographic competition - see below.
Anything in italics is our comments the rest is Alicia's own words - we both hope you enjoy her passion and enthusiasm for the natural world; we certainly need more youngsters like her to get involved with their local (and not so local) and get writing about their fantastic experiences of what nature has to offer all of us...

This week I visited the RSPB Reserve at Leighton Moss in Lancashire, and not only was it beautiful weather, (not the same day the Safari went then!) it was also a wildlife-packed day. We saw so many different sorts of birds and invertebrates and an occasional mammal, it was amazing!

We arrived in good time, and after picking up a map from the Visitor Centre, I headed off with my Dad, around the reserve.  In the first hide; the Tim Jackson Hide, things were relatively quiet on birds and mammals – however there were lots of insects. Large colourful Dragonflies flitted around outside and landed just outside the hide to sun themselves, tantalisingly close yet just out of reach for me to get photos!

The Grisedale hide was the hide that we visited next and we were constantly in the company of a Grey Heron. It was fascinating to watch this pterodactyl-like bird as it went about its daily life hunting. It went down to strike again and again, sometimes catching fish, sometimes not. A family of noisy Mallards then started having a bath behind the reeds but the Heron carried on fishing!
As we headed back through the more wooded area of Leighton Moss, we were surrounded by birdsong. Great Tits, Blue Tits, Robins, House Sparrows, Blackbirds, Nuthatch were only a few. I had recently read about some unusual behaviour in young birds, and was thrilled to witness it here. A young Robin sat on a sign and sang softly to itself with its beak closed. Young birds – especially birds in which their song is very important, sing with their beaks closed in order to practise their singing skills. Apparently, birds are not born with a song or being able to sing, they learn their particular song by listening to their parents sing, and then practise by themselves until it sounds good enough to sing with their beak open wide!  I managed to take a small film of this Robin, practising.
The next hide we went to was a great spot for birds. From the Public Hide, just over the wetland lake there was a dead tree in which a Great White Egret was perched.  We have had a Little Egret which has appeared near home in the last few weeks, so it was good to see the Great White Egret to compare the size.  It sat hunched over like a Grey Heron and simply watched. Near the opposite bank of the wetland, about 20 Coots were swimming and feeding, and closer to our side a Moorhen parent and its chick spent the time going in and out of view in the reeds. Suddenly a Water Rail came out of the reeds and started cleaning itself! It was only a few metres from the hide and was thrilling to see and photograph – my first Water Rail.
Just a little better than our paltry effort a couple of blog-posts back, don't you think
Lilian's hide was next, and we were treated to another Water Rail! Water Rails are quite rare and so it was very lucky to see one never mind two! (Apparently about 14% of the UK breeding population is at LM) Mallards, Moorhens, Coots, a flying Grey Heron and more dragonflies joined the wildlife here. Then we returned to the Grisedale Hide, where a family of Red Deer were feeding on the opposite bank. Two fawns and two females grazed undisturbed by the constant coming and goings of trains on the railway next to them!
We stopped by the Visitor Centre next where a mass of different bees were taking advantage of the flowers which were grown in the special sensory garden. A few butterflies – Red Admiral, Small Tortoiseshell and Speckled Wood, all flitted around and I photographed lots of images of bees on the flowers, showing the diversity in bee species. Some were tiny – a bit like 'baby' bumblebees, and then there were White-Tailed, Yellow-Tailed Bumble Bees and Honey Bees too!
Before heading to the coastal hides, we visited the cafe and had drinks and cakes, because we remembered that on BBC Autumnwatch they had said how good the cakes were – and they were right!  Then we went to the final hides, firstly calling at Allen Hide, but  as a Sparrowhawk had just flown through, it had scared away all the birds, so we moved on to the Eric Morecambe hide where there were loads of birds. Lapwing, Redshank, Greenshank, a Cormorant, Coots, Moorhens, a Kingfisher, Dunlins, Little Egrets (about 10) and even a Peregrine Falcon - which passed through and frightened everything! I took hundreds of photos as the light changed into an evening glow catching on the birds' feathers.

Leighton Moss is a beautiful and diverse place, full of wildlife gems. Although I didn't see it, my Mum and sister saw an Otter from Public Hide in the afternoon. However, I saw three wildlife firsts for me; Great White Egret, Greenshank and Water Rail, and saw practically everything I wanted to (the Kingfisher was a bonus). It would have been really great to have seen the elusive Bittern – one of my favourite birds, however hopefully next time I will!  We will definitely be visiting again, maybe in the winter months, to see what else we can spot.

Alicia        Aged 14                                                                                                  August 2014

PS  My sister has just been announced as Highly Commended in the under 12s section of BWPA, with a photo of a White-Tailed Sea Eagle she took on the Isle of Skye last summer.  It is on the British Wildlife Photography Awards website 

A talented family indeed! But just look at the quality of all those images the youngsters have taken - we'd be well happy with any of them even if they only came out half as good.

Where to next? There's a tiny bit of news from Patch 2 that'll have to keep til tomorrow and we may be able to have a quick look somewhere away from Patch 2 in the late afternoon with a bit of luck.
In the meantime let us know what the youngsters are getting out into the wilds and spotting in your outback.

Monday, 1 September 2014

A tern for the better

The Safari has to inform you that the moth trap did get soggy, we were woken by really heavy rain rattling on the bedroom windows at about 05.00 and decided to get up early and bring it in but as soon as we got up it stopped so back to bed until Frank woke up it was. No repeat of the Hawthorn Shield Bug magnet act from him this morning. And then it was time to check the soggy trap. Fortunately we had a Wasp warning as there was one sat torpid on the outside of the box – time to open up cautiously. There were no more inside, which was a relief. In fact there wasn’t much inside at all, a few of the expected Large Yellow Underwings, a Lesser Yellow Underwing, a Setaceous Hebrew Character and a very worn Codling Moth was the sum total of trap’s contents.
Later we met up with BD at the nature reserve, we were well late for the bird club’s reed cutting day. We can only ‘supervise’ but BD donned the waders and grabbed a slasher to clear the view in front of the hide so when he gets his mint Water Rail, Cetti's Warbler and Bittern pics this winter he’ll have the extra satisfaction of knowing he helped make the shot possible.
With all the work going on there wasn’t much about but a Cetti’s Warbler was reported as singing back at the strimmers! 
Over on the island some folk were hard at it, others or at least one other was slacking.
He claims he'd done loads earlier...we're not convinced, that NGB hoody looks far to clean.
If anyone fancies a go at this sort of thing, not necessarily up to your neck in the water, there'll be lots of opportunities coming up soon at the nature reserve.
A couple of Shovelers dropped in once the noise had died down at lunchtime. The cut area in front of the hide attracted several Common Darters including a pair in tandem laying eggs while another male watched waiting to get in on the action, Migrant Hawkers were whizzing back and forth too and we think we had a brief fly-past from an Emperor.
The afternoon was spent at a localish site we rarely visit but has had a breeding pair of Little Ringed Plovers which BD hasn’t seen before. It’s a cracking site a little inland that pulls in more than its fair share of scarcities. Access is restricted to viewing from a distance and a scope is essential. 
It was pretty quite but we soon had the target plovers in view and a look from the field had BD getting a few pics with his mega lens. Buzzards soared and called overhead and the Blackberries in the hedgerow were tasty, a Goldcrest called from somewhere in the hedge too. Swallows twittered cheerily over the fields as the sun came out, it was a very pleasant and peaceful afternoon in the countryside. A few Little Grebes graced the water and a search of one of the nearer pools almost hidden by ‘dead’ ground revealed a Common Sandpiper, how we’d rather it had been a Green Sandpiper, a species very rapidly becoming BD’s bogey bird!
The arrival of a flock of sheep disturbed a nice little flock of wagtails but all the ones we saw were Pieds, no Whites or Yellows were mixed in with them. Beyond them a pair of Stock Doves dropped on to a puddle for a quick drink.
As we turned to leave a movement in the hedge caught BD’s eye and he stopped to see what it was, a small ‘browny’ bird was all he got on it. Anyway, here at this time of year it could have been something a little out of the ordinary so we turned back to look for it and almost immediately a Kingfisher shot over the gate where we’d been stood (coulda had our eye out!!!) banked past us and flew a good way down the canal. We would have totally missed it if it wasn’t for the mystery bird, which we never did see again.
From there we made our way back to the coast to the northern estuary where several Mediterranean Gulls have been seen recently, another species BD hasn’t (knowingly) come across yet. The tide was well up and there was a lot of boat activity on the river. Only a small patch of mud was exposed and this held a few gulls, all the ‘wrong’ species, several Lapwings and a few Golden Plovers. In a nearby lesser creek was a Common Sandpiper
We had a wonder up to the yacht club to see if there were any gulls roosting on the far side of the river we couldn’t see from where we were stood, nothing there either, just a few ‘Large White Headed Gulls’ loafing on the water way off in the distance down stream. A Little Egret flew at height over the village on the far bank but there was little else to keep us interested. So back to our original view point it was. By now a second Common Sandpiper had turned up in the creek and more mud in the distance was exposed by the dropping tide giving very shimmery views of more Lapwings, Golden Plovers and Redshanks. A juvenile Shelduck was there too and a small flock was seen to wheel round, we followed the larger bird, a Black Tailed Godwit but BD stuck with the other three much smaller birds which landed on the edge of the mud, Dunlins.
The walk back to the Land Rover had BD inspecting a bank pock marked with mining bee holes and sampling the Sloes on the Blackthorn bushes.
Well we didn’t see all we had hoped to but on a sunny summer’s afternoon does that matter, we’d seen and enjoyed loads and had a couple of surprise sightings too – what more could you ask for?
There was a bit more to come in the evening!
A couple of times during the afternoon the mobile had rung but as we were driving we couldn’t answer. Once we’d dropped BD off and got back to Base Camp we did and discovered there was a very dodgy looking warbler down on Chat Alley, tentatively IDd as an Icterine Warbler on account of it being remarkably yellow, acting a bit weird accompanied by the fact it was in an odd-ball out of habitat place – a pile of old tyres in the former boating pool. It had been there all afternoon nipping in and out of the tyre pile and doing some flycatching. Nothing for it but to ask Wifey if she had dinner under control and could we go – Yes and yes, so we did a bit of phoning around and then off we went up and over the hill.
On arrival we spotted local butterfly aficionado, DS, and wondered how he'd heard of it but it transpired he was just out for a pre-dinner meander along the prom. From the top of the cliff we son saw the mystery bird and by eck was it yellow, a warbler that looked chunky and was as bright as a Grey Wagtail sat on the wall of the boating pool- what on earth was it? We rushed down the steep path down to the boating pool/go-kart track to get a closer look. It was very active flitting about fly-catching and bobbing up and down on and off the wall but was obviously a phylloscopus warbler and sadly not a hippolais warbler . In some lights it showed very orangy-pink legs so a Willow Warbler then, but then the other birders appeared with much bigger lenses than we could ever manage and showed us pics of the very short wing projection, so deffo a Chiffchaff then. Mystery solved but we did hear it call a couple of times and it said something like tchreuu and nothing like the 'normal' hweet...what's that all about?
Here's our best effort taken after the sun had gone off the tyre pile. Looks just like a Chiffchaff should, doesn't it?
Believe us when we we say it didn't look anything like this when we saw it from afar and we've seen some other pics from PL that hint at a much yellower colouration (not the ones he's posted on his Flickr site).
Today we didn't get out early but had to wait until lunchtime and we didn't get long then. But it was productive. A flock of terns was giving a bait ball some serious hammer away to our north but fairly close inshore. Spectacular! Then we spotted on that was only half the size of the others - a real titch - bingo a Little Tern (160, P2 #67). Short but sweet!
And we got a very quick look in the rockpools only to find a somewhat hidden very small and very quick 5-Bearded Rockling - blink and you'll miss it
And then look what appeared on our FB feed from Aussie Glen only a flippin Numbat, one of the planet's rarest mammals seen from his sitting room window. Got a  pic too which is more than we did when we saw one at Maroo a couple of years ago - bet he's well chuffed and hope he doesn't mind us nicking his pic!
Don't forget you can volunteer at Maroo or join one of their excellent wildlife rehab training courses, see their blog or website for details not seen anyone on the Nature's Miracle Orphans programme using Burston Blues yet but they all should be!

Where to next? Even less likely to be able to get out tomorrow but we'll see, there's always something to see if you take a look.
In the meantime let us know who was hiding in the waving vegetation your outback.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Just a couple for today

The Safari didn't get far today but two 'convenience' trips out with Frank both times saw him come back with a hitch-hiker in the form of a Hawthorn Shield Bug nymph on his back! Are there loads about this year or was this fluke?
Here's the first and larger one, we didn't have a camera handy for the second.
The other day we had a Broad Boarded Yellow Underwing in the moth trap - bonny! But this one's a bit worn. A chunky beast.
Where to next? Mothy is on and we're hopeful that there won't be a soggy mess in the morning - no Wasps would be good too.
In the meantime let us know what's apparently overly numerous in your outback.

Friday, 29 August 2014

The day of 'S'

The Safari had a soggy day out today. We were a little undecided where to go but eventually plumbed to go north rather than east or south. The weather was poor with sudden sharp showers making the motorway a bit tricky with lots of spray from the trucks. It looked like we were in for a soaking!
We had hoped to get on site for 07.00 but that didn't happen and it was a late 08.15 when we pulled into the car park - jeez how slow can traffic get these days!
Minutes before we arrived we saw a Little Egret fly over the road and then a 'probable' Great White Shark - sorry - Egret in flight over the reedbeds to our right but we couldn't confirm it from the driver's seat.
Only one thing for it nip down to the nearest hide to where it landed first.
It wasn't in view, there's lots of hidden pools and ditches on the reserve so it was undoubtedly fishing on one of those. There wasn't a lot about apart from a family of Mute Swans and a few Shovelers, the drakes must be the bonniest of the ducks in their eclipse plumage.
Back tracking a little way to the next hide sent us past a young lad and lass volunteers doing some heavy duty hammering and crow-barring improving the path. A soon as we were in the hide we had to move quietly and very gently as there was a Red Deer showing on the edge of the reeds only a few yards away, not a stag a young hind.
OK so the Red Deer are great but there was a rather pleasant surprise, the water-level has been dropped for management reasons to improve the reed-bed and the exposed mud had several Swan Mussels, not seen one of those for a long time and never seen them here before, but then we've never seen the water this low before.
Great stuff - wildlife always throws a curve-ball you're not expecting.
Time to nick off to the 'main' hide where we immediately saw a different Great White Egret (159). It stood still most of the morning but eventually moved a round a bit.
The supporting cast was a couple of hundred Black Tailed Godwits, some still in their stunning rusty summer breeding plumage. We soon found three Ruffs and then a Spotted Redshank. Almost 400 Teal had returned for the winter too.
We saw this too, can you guess what it is?
JC, who we've not seen for a good few years, came in to the hide and said 'there's an Otter just over there in the corner'. Wow and did it perform! It was around on and off most of the morning. Yes the mystery photo is the Otter's tail raised during a vigorous bout of fishing. At times it was coming up covered in mud so it must have been footling around in the mud. Occasionally it came up chewing but we were never able to see what exactly it was eating.
Sadly it never came near enough for quality pics and we were shooting through glass windows, we couldn't see it from the windows that do open.
Never have we watched an Otter for this long anywhere, excellent, well worth getting wet for!
We filled our boots with the Otter and then made our way towards the next hides but we'd been told there was a team of wardens cutting reeds there and that was why there numbers of Teal and godwits was so high here so we didn't bother going that far, later we learnt that there were four Greenshanks there which we didn't realise we've somehow not seen so far this year - dohhh.
We did stop at the kids pond dipping platform where several dragonflies putting on a flying display. We couldn't get any pics of the two Emperors but the Common Darters were much more obliging.
One of the Emperors caught a large fly but then spat it out and it came and landed somewhat stunned next to the Common Darter
Interesting chequerboard pattern it has - not seen one like that before.
Also not seen before is a hoverfly like this. It has a fringe of yellow hairs around its abdomen,you can just about make them out, not the best pic the darned thing closed its wings just at the wrong time!
 Any ideas CR?
We went back to the first hides but to no more success although on the way back the 'ususal' tree had a nice selection of birds looking for food, a Marsh Tit, Robins, a Dunnock a lovely Nuthatch and this gorgeous Blue Tit.
Back at the main hide a Water Rail showed 'well' with a juvenile Moorhen.
Again the Otter showed and this time swam/ploughed its way right across the mere in front of us only to disappear for good into the reed on our right hand side.
The birds just kept a wary eye on it, had it been properly swimming and diving we've no doubt they'd all have flushed.
We spent a lot of time acting as an impromptu 'guide in the hide' letting the kids coming in have a look at the Otter or egret through our scope...they loved it!
Great day but we decided to leave a little early to avoid the traffic - we didn't!
Where to next? Not sure about tomorrow yet but there will be wildlife involved somewhere.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Pretty perfect but no can go

The Safari looked longingly at the sea on the way to work, after it being very choppy yesterday it was like a carpet this morning, more Wilton or Axeminster than Lino but far far calmer than it had been but we had no possibility of getting out for a look until lunchtime at least. One day soon we'd like to get a glimpse of another Harbour Porpoise or two, it's getting a bit late in the season for another show from the Bottlenose Dolphins, we're getting blubber withdrawal symptoms!
It seemed to take an age for lunchtime to arrive but when it did we were off over to Patch 2 like a shot, only to find the wind had picked up again and although was blowing offshore the sea was well lumpy again - dohhh. We couldn't find anything of note out there at all. Less than ten minutes later we were back behind the desk, but at least we were doing something for our very important Primary Science Teaching Trust wildlife project.
Towards the end of the working afternoon JB and the Safari got the underwater camera out and had a footle round with the attachments and eventually found a decent stick to attach it to - only one thing was going to happen now - a dunking in the works pond!
How many 3-Spined Sticklebacks can you see, we thought we'd got 'most' of them and this 'litle' shoal is only one of several we saw!
Getting there with the underwater cam but still some more practice is needed, a little more time this arvo would have been useful but as it was we forgot a chore we should have done on the way home - dohhhh.
Where to next? Another family day tomorrow but there may be some wildlife to be spotted.
In the meantime let us know who's cruisin round in your outback

Monday, 25 August 2014

Away to the south west corner of Wales

The Safari's Extreme Photographer  has upped sticks and left Lancashire for the sunnier climes of Pembrokeshire. He's been there nearly a month and after a busy couple of weeks settling into his new job has been out n about over the last few days exploring his new environment.
We'll miss his company on our safaris, always good fun but wish him well in his new venture and of course look forward to receiving email updates of new sites and finds. So far it's looking good down there!
Here's his first offerings
Wheatears are on the move right now so it's not surprising that one has turned up on his patch. They breed all around the coast there too
Meadow Grasshopper  
On the hunt
Common Lizard
Sloughing its skin
Not a bad selection at all for starters, we're sure that as he explores further afield and discovers more sites there'll be some cracking pics of brilliant Welsh wildlife for you to enjoy. We eagerly await his next 'delivery' and just as well they came through cos it's been a dreadful Bank Holiday weather-wise here in Safari-land and we haven't been inspired to go out and enjoy our local wildlife at all.
Where to next? Back to work tomorrow but there mightn't be much time for a Patch 2 visit.
In the meantime let us know if you were enthused to get out in your outback today

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Another fun day on the beach

The Safari was out last night helping with a moth and bat night at a nearby park.
Here's some pics
Why do grown men and kids stand in the dark with slender sticks held high - no it's not some wierd political convention
Bats! That's wot...and they had a couple of 'hits' as the bat connected with the 'artificial' midge!
Here's a Pipistrelle Bat that one of participants kindly brought in, it had been found dead in a disused house some time ago - soooo tiny.
Sorry it's a bit blurry - our wrangler won't keep still
 Moth numbers were quite high considering the cold brisk wind, lots of Square Spot Rustic but a couple of Gold Spots were the highlight
After the usual Sunday morning chores it was time to go and start our final beach family event of the summer season on which we were joined by FW and family for some sand, salty fun in the sun, although Frank may well have been star of the show.
What a superb office this arvo
Beadlet Anemone by FW
Compass Jellyfish by FW
Masked Crab
 You can tell you've been exploring properly if this is the end result

Here's a short bit of video from the underwater-cam, we can see we're going to have some fun with this kit.

FW, HW & the Safari
A great day was had by all - hope you've signed the petition, if you haven't please do!
Where to next? Bank Holiday tomorrow so the weather is bound to be iffy so we may well have a virtual safari to SW Wales for you.
In the meantime let us know what's lurking in the depths of the wellies in your outback.